The Mammojammogram: Take Two

I had such a great time with the mammogram two weeks ago, they Mam2invited me back for a second round! Woo hoo! This good news came by phone as I was herding my nephews out the door for their first day of tennis camp. It took me a minute to process what the woman on the phone was saying; I asked her to repeat it.

“The radiologist found a pattern of calcification that is prompting her to order a diagnostic mammogram…”

“Oh, hi, Aunts!” I waved to my older nephew.

“…It’s a new development since your last mammogram so it has to be checked.”

“Where are my sneakers?” my younger nephew wanted to know.

“Over there,” I said to him. To the phone I said, “Oh. Okay. Calcification. Which one?”

“Which one? I need both sneakers to play tennis!” “Both breasts.”

“Oh. Over there.” I said, pointing to the shoes.

“Now most calcifications are benign but some are a sign of cancerous or pre-cancerous activity…”

“Aunts, wanna see my Pokemon cards?”

“…so that’s why you have to come back in soon for the diagnostic mammogram.”

“In a minute,” I said.

“No, it takes longer than a minute,” the woman on the phone continued. “It’ll take about an hour and a half cuz they take multiple shots and the radiologist reads them on the spot and may ask for more views…”

“These used to be Chris’ cards but now they’re mine.”

“…until he or she can make a determination of whether it’s benign or needs further examination, like a biopsy.”

“Hi, Aunts!” My niece said as she came into the kitchen. “Hi!” I mouthed. “Okay,” I said to the woman on the phone.

“You went to Interchange last time but this is in the hospital itself in the Women’s Center.”

“When do we go?” My nephew asked.

“Soon,” I said out loud.

“Yes, the sooner the better,” the woman on the phone said and she proceeded to talk for three full minutes giving me driving directions to the building, noting all the landmarks along the way. I scribbled these down on the only piece of paper I could find, which was a receipt from the grocery store already printed double sided. I ended up writing in the margin all around the receipt, creating a pathway of words and letters leading me to the place that would squash my upper girl parts six ways til Sunday.

All the while, my niece and nephews bustled around me, getting their things together for another day of summer vacation. Thank goodness for the chaos of normalcy. As we walked out of the house, I did a quick recap in my head. There might be Pokemons that show up in the mammogram but those aren’t serious unless they appear in certain patterns, at which point you’re late for tennis camp and they don’t validate parking at the Women’s Center but arrive thirty minutes early or else they might not give you back your racquet. Next Tuesday. Wear sunscreen. Tennis

Two weeks later, yesterday, I dropped off my nephews for tennis camp before driving over to the Women’s Center for the second mammogram. It required a ten minute search for a parking spot in their Garagemahal. In pre-admissions, I flashed my receipt for the half grand copay I had to prepay over the phone last week. I then signed a stack of papers swearing I haven’t been to Africa and I’m not pregnant; I don’t have bionic parts; I understand I really don’t have any privacy; and I agree to go broke paying my bill if my insurance company weasels out of coverage.

In the Breast Imaging Center, I donned a cross-tied smock/bathrobe thing before joining a  dozen other women in the cheerful but subdued waiting area. It reminded me of those big day spa places that make you get naked and don a fuzzy bathrobe in a closet before being ushered into a large, dimly lit “salon” where you sip cucumber water with a dozen other naked-beneath-their-robes men and women while waiting for your masseur to loudly whisper your name and wave at you to follow them through the magic door.

The air in the mammojammo waiting room felt charged, as women nervously waited to a) start the imaging process; b) take additional images, or c) receive the good/bad news about their images. Two women chatted as if they were old friends while others scrolled through email or Facebook on their phones. No one looked at anyone in case cancer could spread by eye contact.

Mary Ellen, my tech, was very nice. She wore a dragonfly pendant around her neck and scrubs with a dragonfly print, which seemed like good luck. This machine was more like the one I remembered from a few years ago: a square squisher. The tech had a pattern of my breast drawn on a piece of paper which she used to line up my tissues on the machine. She explained how the doctor wanted very specific images of the tissues where the calcifications were. I joked that it was the Butterick mammogram; she was old enough to get the joke. Whew.

The second set of images she had to take were challenging. These were side views requiring me to twist one way while the breast hung slightly down. I had to maintain the position with the breast squished for a full minute. She said the goal was to see if the calcifications “fell” or moved a certain way. If they did, that was good. If they didn’t, well, that would suggest a problem. We did this with both breasts.

All I can say is Ow. No problem with the “Don’t breathe!” order. She never said whether or not the calcifications fell; silence isn’t golden in this situation.

After paging through an Allure magazine for about five minutes back in the waiting room, the tech brought me back into one of the exam rooms to say the doctor wanted to see me back in six months to do this set of images all over again. She said the calcifications are cause for concern because of their pattern and because they weren’t there last mammogram but nothing like a tumor is visible yet. Another check in six months will tell if this is a pre-cancer or cancer site or nothing to worry about.

As I walked out, she said, “Don’t worry! I wouldn’t. It’s only six months.” I’ll try to take that advice. And I’ll be taking my nephews to tennis camp every morning I can because time with them is a precious gift. God often sends reminders not to squander the days and hours of life. Thank you, God, I’m listening.